“The Diary of Anne Frank” Has All the Tension, Heartache, and Joy Your Heart Can Take

Samantha Rahn plays the teenaged title character in "The Diary of Anne Frank"
Samantha Rahn plays the teenaged title character in “The Diary of Anne Frank”

We blithely assume that everyone knows the story of the events depicted in Burning Coal Theatre Company current production of The Diary of Anne Frank, playing April 10-13, 17-20, and 25-27 in Murphey School Auditorium, near the Historic Oakwood Section in downtown Raleigh, NC. Otto Frank’s family and their friends, the Van Daans, and another man survived over two years in a cramped second floor annex to a factory building in Amsterdam during World War II.

There are two versions of the play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett. The first one made its Broadway debut in 1955; and the second one is a new adaptation of the Goodrich and Hackett script, made by Wendy Kesselman, for the 1997 Broadway revival of the play.

The drama begins when we are called to enter the theater, and we immediately begin to feel ourselves oppressed by a threatening authority. We are then introduced to the “stage,” which in fact feels more like a comfy old room in an old building that doesn’t really have enough space for seven people, but is serviceable.

We sit almost within touching distance of the players, who quickly become two families in dire straits, clinging together and learning to accommodate each other, and we live with them for 25 months of the war compressed into two hours. We are pulled into being part of the dynamics as the Van Daans squabble, as the eighth refugee enters the mix, as the warplanes fly over, as the armies march by, as the sirens pierce our consciousness, as daily living becomes battles of nerves, as moments of lightheartedness make the fears and pressures disappear for a few moments, as a religious celebration raises spirits. We are made privy to Anne’s maturing body, Mrs. Van Daan’s dissatisfactions, Mr. Dussel’s manipulations, Mrs. Frank’s conflicts with her younger daughter, and Peter van Daan’s budding awareness of gender.

Samantha Rahn is absolutely delightful as Anne Frank, spunky, playful, energetic, and aware. She shows us Anne’s rambunctious side as we meet her, and then subtly develops her into a sensitive young lady.

Otto Frank is carefully, meticulously portrayed for us by John Allore, as the leader of this confined group, rational, sensitive, loving, and wise. Thom Haynes and Jenn Suchanec bring consternation and squabbling to the play as Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan, and the chemistry between Haynes and Suchanec is visible and jarring.

Peter van Daan is brought to life by Josh W. Martin, who shows us the introversion the character requires. (Peter is a teen among complicated adults, whose angst needs nurturing and time spent alone or in the company of his anchor — a pet cat.

Mr. Dussel, the dentist who is thrust into their lives by the urgent necessities of war, is played by Al Singer with a deft touch. Mr. Dussel’s grumpiness is ameliorated by Anne’s kindness to him. Indeed, this ensemble illustrates the absurdity and horror of human beings entrapped into survival mode every moment of the day, awake or asleep, and their unfortunate need to coalesce into a supportive unit.

Burning Coal guest director Abdelfattah Abusrour of Bethlehem, Palestine has done a magnificent job of staging and directing this beloved, classic show, with new insight into the characters derived from working with both scripts and reading the diary itself. His ability to identify with the plight of these eight people is key to his bringing out the power of this play.

"The Diary of Anne Frank" stars (from left) Jenn Suchanec, Erin Tito, and Samantha Rahn
“The Diary of Anne Frank” stars (from left) Jenn Suchanec, Erin Tito, and Samantha Rahn

Burning Coal’s presentation of The Diary of Anne frank moves like a fine piece of music, with varying tempos appropriate to the portion of story being told, and the humorous elements breaking the sometimes crushing tension. But the sense of desperation never leaves the theater.

Elizabeth Newton has created a somber, all-too-intimate set, in which audience and performers seem never separated and these pitiful lives seem to adhere to us like Gorilla glue. Lighting designer Matthew Adelson, costume designer Karen Morgan Williams, properties designer Sarah Morrissey, and sound designer Aharon Segal add to the authenticity of the environment these haunted innocents endured. It appears that in this world we need regular reminders of human inhumanities and this production at Burning Coal Theatre Company is a powerful and entertaining way to be reminded.

SECOND OPINION: April 6th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2014/04/the-diary-of-anne-frank-keeps-a-tight-grip-on-viewers/; and April 4th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/04/04/3758145/theater-review-the-diary-of-anne.html.

Burning Coal Theatre Company presents THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK at 7:30 p.m. April 10-12, 2 p.m. April 13, 7:30 p.m. April 17-19, 2 p.m. April 20, 7:30 p.m. April 25, 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 26, and 2 p.m. April 27 in Murphey School Auditorium, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604, near the Historic Oakwood Section.

TICKETS: $25 ($15 students, teachers, and active-duty military personnel and $20 seniors 65+), except all tickets are $15 on Thursdays, $15 per person for groups of 10 or more, and $5 Student Rush Tickets (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain, to students with valid ID).

BOX OFFICE: 919-834-4001 or http://www.etix.com/.

SHOW: http://burningcoal.org/the-diary-of-anne-frank/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/534223516694522/.

VIDEO PREVIEW (by nickflix1): https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KT_OzRvPRC4.

PRESENTER: http://www.burningcoal.org/, https://www.facebook.com/Burning.Coal.Theatre, and https://twitter.com/burningcoaltc.

VENUE/DIRECTIONS: http://burningcoal.org/murphey-school-auditorium/.

NOTE 1: The Carolina Center for Jewish Studies and Burning Coal Theatre Company will present the Uhlman Family Seminar entitled “Diaries, Dreams, and Desires: Anne Frank and Jewish Private Life” from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 12th. For details, click here.

NOTE 2: Only the final week (April 25-27) will be wheelchair accessible.


The Diary of a Young Girl, a.k.a. The Diary of Anne Frank (1947 book): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Diary_of_a_Young_Girl (Wikipedia).

Book: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Annelies Marie “Anne” Frank (German-born Dutch diarist, 1929-45): http://www.annefrank.org/ (Anne Frank Museum Amsterdam), http://www.annefrank.ch/ (Anne Frank Fonds), http://www.annefrank.org.uk/ (Anne Frank Trust U.K.), http://annefrank.com/ (Anne Frank Center USA), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Frank (Wikipedia).

The Diary of Anne Frank (1955 Broadway play): http://www.ibdb.com/production.php?id=2533 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Diary_of_Anne_Frank_%28play%29 (Wikipedia).

Frances Goodrich (playwright and screenwriter, 1890-1984): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Goodrich (Wikipedia).

Albert Hackett (playwright and screenwriter, 1900-1995): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Hackett (Wikipedia).

The Diary of Anne Frank (1997 Broadway revival): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=2866 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/7449/diary-of-anne-frank-the-adaptation-by-wendy-kesselman (Samuel French, Inc.), and http://www.ibdb.com/production.php?id=4764 (Internet Broadway Database).

Wendy Kesselman (Wellfleet, MA adapter, born 1940): http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsK/kesselman-wendy.html (Doollee.com: The Playwrights Database ) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendy_Kesselman (Wikipedia).

Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).

Study Guide: http://annefrank.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/AFC-Study-Guide-BroadwayPlay-Diary-of-AnneFrank.pdf (Anne Frank Center USA).

Abdelfattah Abusrour (Palestinian director): http://aabusrour.blogspot.com/ (blog), https://www.facebook.com/aabusrour2 (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/aabusrour (Twitter page).


Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.